Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise.
Helen’s Tower, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
A granddaughter of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in 1825 18-year old Helen Sheridan married the Hon Price Blackwood who, although a third son, would become fourth Baron Dufferin and Claneboye owing to the deaths of his two older brothers. The groom’s parents opposed the match, having hoped for a better, more wealthy bride than the beautiful but impoverished Helen Sheridan whose father had died when she was ten, leaving behind a widow and three daughters who lived in a grace-and-favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace. The Blackwoods had one child, a son called Frederick, and lived in London until he inherited the family title and estate in Ireland in 1839. Two years later, Price Dufferine died, having been accidentally prescribed an overdose of morphine by a pharmacist. Like her mother before her, Lady Dufferin was now left a widow, her only son Frederick then aged 15. The two remained close for the next 26 years, until her own death in 1867. Long before then, in 1848 the young Lord Dufferin had embarked on the construction of a tower on his estate at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down. Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, unsurprisingly the building is in the baronial style, of four storeys leading up to a flat, turreted roof that offers superlative views of the surrounding countryside. A porch at the base which provides access to the tower carries a date stone with the year 1850, along with a coronet and two opposed Ds with an ampersand between them, representing the Dufferin title. However, despite carrying this date, the building does not appear to have been finished, until the early 1860s when it was fitted with an interior stone spiral staircase giving access to the upper floors and roof. A room on the second floor has a coffered ceiling, the panels of which are painted with circular inscriptions enclosing coronets and crests. Above this is the oak-panelled library with a ribbed groin vaulted ceiling, the centre of which concludes in a pendant. When completed, the building was named Helen’s Tower, in honour of Lord Dufferin’s mother, who was herself a talented writer and poet. As a result, her son invited a number of the most famous poets of the period – among them Tennyson and Browning – to write verses about Helen Dufferin and her tower: many of these were then engraved on metal plates which can still be seen on the walls of the library.
Who hears of Helen’s Tower, may dream perchance
How the Greek Beauty from the Scaean Gate
Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,
Death-doom’d because of her fair countenance.
Hearts would leap otherwise, at thy advance,
Lady, to whom this Tower is consecrate!
Like hers, thy face once made all eyes elate,
Yet, unlike hers, was bless’d by every glance.
The Tower of Hate is outworn, far and strange:
A transitory shame of long ago,
It dies into the sand from which it sprang;
But thine, Love’s rock-built Tower, shall fear no change:
God’s self laid stable earth’s foundations so,
When all the morning-stars together sang.
Helen’s Tower, by Robert Browning.
Helen’s Tower is now managed by the Irish Landmark Trust and offered for short-term lets, see: Helen’s Tower | Self Catering Accommodation in Bangor, Co Down (irishlandmark.com)